For those without The Peterson Pipe: The Story of Kapp & Peterson, this is a guide on dating Peterson pipes by their metal-mount markings. There are other useful ways to date a Peterson pipe—by shape, line, and finish—but the quickest and easiest in the case of Peterson high grades is by hallmarks.
Peterson ranks only slightly behind Dunhill as the world’s most dateable production pipe, which is one of the many joys of owning and smoking a Pete. Even when the mount is nickel, with a bit of knowledge and practice, the companioner (or collector) can often date his or her pipe to within a five to ten year period.
Usually Peterson metal stampings and bowl stampings aren’t difficult to decipher, but I’d recommend at the outset using some kind of strong magnification loupe. Jeweler’s hand-held loupes are usually not quite strong enough to do the job. Headset loupes with multiple lenses can usually be had at quite reasonable prices which, with a good light source, are often all you need.
If you dabble in digital photography and have a lens with macro capability, it’s often the case that a digital image offers clues that even a headset loupe can’t, since it can be magnified and manipulated in the digital darkroom.
THE FANTASTIC FIVE
There are five types of K&P metal stamps:
- The “K&P maker’s mark;
- Nickel-mount marks (often confused for hallmarks by the unknowing);
- Irish sterling hallmarks (stamped by the Dublin Assay Office);
- Irish gold hallmarks (also stamped by the Dublin Assay Office);
- British sterling hallmarks.
1. The K&P Stamp
Pipe smokers new to Peterson sometimes wonder what the “K&P” stamp is all about, not realizing the company was known as “Kapp & Peterson” until the 1970s and is still referred to as “Kapps” by the old hands in the shop.
Most Peterson pipes with metal mounts (and all nickel-mount Systems) have a “K & P” Maker’s Mark, also called a Sponsor’s Hallmark, which is used by The Company of Goldsmiths of Dublin [aka Dublin Assay Office] (est. 1637) to identify the silversmith or goldsmith responsible for making the article.
The “K & P” maker’s mark was registered at the assay office shortly after Kapp & Peterson’s incorporation and appears either in all capital letters (on early sterling and later nickel mounts) or capital letters in shields (on sterling). This detail of a sterling band on a 1908 meerschaum shows the original K & P maker’s mark:
The maker’s mark was later placed in shields, which may be flat or pointed at the top. Here’s an example:
After 1938, the K&P maker’s mark became a stand-in for the Company of Goldsmiths (aka Dublin Assay Office) date letter and was usually accompanied nearby by the STERLING over SILVER stamp, as seen above.
The practice of stamping sterling with the date letter wasn’t resumed at Peterson until 1969, for rather humorous reasons you can read about in the Peterson book.
2. Nickel Mount Marks
Dealers and pipe smokers unfamiliar with Peterson often confuse the three nickel-mount marks of Shamrock, Wolf Hound and Round Tower with precious metal assay marks. The nickel-mount marks are instead multivalent symbols chosen to represent Ireland and appearing on nickel wind caps and nickel ferrules and bands beginning in the Irish Free State era (1922-38). They’re so rich that I encourage you to search them out on the internet for yourself. You’ll be amazed by what you discover and it will enrich your enjoyment of your Petes.
I cannot give a definitive date on the appearance of the nickel-mount mark, although perhaps documentation will some day appear. The best we can do is give a range of tentative dates from c. 1922 to c. 1963, based on oral histories of old craftsmen like Paddy Larrigan and physical examples. The nickel bands, common to all such metallurgy manufacturing during these decades, were brass-plated nickel plate until the advent of an alloy base metal under the nickel plate, which seems to have occurred about 40 years ago. The bands were hand-soldered by craftsmen and women in the factory, as can be seen with oxidized examples where a dark wavy line from the silver-soldering sometimes appears as well as an article in the Irish Times which talks about nickel-mount soldering at the factory. Many of the dome ferrules were hand-soldered, although some were pressed. I have no idea why. You can easily see the silver-solder mark most nickel ferrules and bands that have oxidized.
The three stamps resurfaced on the copper-plated Christmas pipe mounts beginning in 2019 and and continuing through 2022 (the date of this revision). The stamps have not made their way to general production, although I hope at some point that Peterson will be able to return to this important historical practice,and encourage you to write Peterson directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if you, too, would like to see them bring back this historic stamp.
The nickel-mount markings of Shamrock, Wolf Hound and Round Tower appear in at least three iterations (from different stamps) over the decades. Here’s how they looked at the very beginning of their use from a wind cap stamped during the Irish Free State era (1928-38):
Notice the articulation of the shamrock leaves, the upright Wolf Hound and the door at the base of the round tower. And here’s a very clear, deep impression probably dating from the Éire era:
You can see how the stamp has deteriorated, although the Wolf Hound’s position makes it even more probable that it’s a later iteration.
The following photo of a sandblast 308 Standard System shows a fairly typical stamp configuration with K&P maker’s mark over nickel mount marks with PETERSON in small caps beside K&P:
3. Irish Sterling Hallmarks
Irish sterling hallmarks denote the year in which a piece was made or hallmarked and began with the foundation of the Dublin Goldsmiths Company in 1683. Peterson hallmarked pipes have been documented by my co-author Gary Malmberg from 1891 to 1938 and 1969 to the present, leaving a 30 year gap, which K&P later confirmed. Approximate dating of a precious-metal mounted pipe made during these 30 years is possible, as I said at the outside, but requires The Peterson Pipe Book or an extensive collection of Peterson catalogs to understand the contextual history of shapes, lines, finishes and stains.
K&P’s first hallmark dating chart appeared in their Smoker’s Guild #5 magazine, which appeared in 2005:
It was a great effort but marred by the fact that, at the time, they didn’t realize that K&P hadn’t hallmarked any pipes from 1938 through 1968! The extra marks, at the bottom right of the chart, also perplexed many Peterson collectors for years, as these have never appeared on any Peterson pipe.
Three symbols appear on a Peterson sterling band or ferrule (note that sometimes only two appear on tenon end of a spigot or on a silver rim cap] . The first is Hibernia, the symbol of Ireland. She is depicted seated with one arm on the harp. This is the distinctive symbol of the Dublin Assay Office identifying sterling that has been assayed in Ireland. The second original symbol is the Harp Crowned, a fineness mark indicating the quality of the silver. It appeared on hallmarked Peterson pipes through 2002. Here it is on a 305 sterling mount marked “T” for 1984:
From 2003 on, the fineness mark indicating sterling has been a .925, as seen on this Peterson from 2019:
The third mark is the date letter. These follow a system peculiar to the Goldsmiths of Dublin, sometimes using the Celtic alphabet, sometimes the English one. Quite often the date sequence will skip a few letters in each cycle that look too much like the letter next to it in the alphabet. Here’s a simple chart for your use. The one pictured below is eye candy, but you can click on the PDF below it to download a black & white version for printing or keep handy on your computer. It has all the information you’ll need to date Peterson Irish Sterling and Gold mounts from 1890 through 2026:
4. Irish Gold Hallmarks
Gold band Petersons are quite rare, but they do come up from time to time. Chances are the estate dealer won’t be able to tell you the year, but if you know what to look for, you can make inquiries. Unfortunately, most estate dealers don’t have the equipment to photograph the sequence.
If you think the Irish sterling hallmarks are confusing, try the gold. The trouble lies in the fact that there are four marks instead of three. The first three run on top of one another along the horizontal axis of the band while the fourth is vertical:
In this thin 9 karat gold band, only the .375 purity mark for 9 karat gold runs parallel to the Peterson’s over Dublin script. The first three marks are at 90 degree angles, placed one atop the other. The first is—as you smart Pete Geeks guessed—the special symbol of the Dublin Assay Office, Hibernia Seated. The second mark now becomes the date letter. In this case, an italic capital N for 1999. The third mark is a 9 for 9 karat gold. The fourth mark seems redundant to me: “.375” indicates a ratio of 9/24 is pure gold while the rest is other metal (silver, copper, nickel, etc. depending on the color and type of gold). The 375 represents 375/1000 or what 9/24 would be.
Okay, your turn. Using the Irish hallmark chart provided, see if you can determine what year this gold band Pete is from: *
5. British Sterling Hallmarks
I have never actually held or owned a British sterling-mount Peterson, but just in case you run across one, you need to know two things. Thing One: the Peterson factory in London was operational in 1937 and was liquidated in 1962 (and there are some years for which my co-author Gary Malmberg has never documented a single British sterling mount). Thing Two: here are the date letters for London:
Good luck with your Pete dating and Happy Smokes!
Thanks to Scott Forrest for his help in clarifying Nickel Mount history,
*If you said “n” is the hallmark for 1979, you got it right.